Online multilingual handbook of language criticism

Focusing on German, English, French, Italian and Croatian, this multingual handbook looks extremely interesting for our field. Articles are published both in German and in the language of the field it deals with, so they should cater for interested scholars worldwide. More information here.

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Ian McEwan’s metalinguistic comments

During the final month of 2022 I read two of Ian McEwan’s novels, an earlier one, Saturday (2005), and his most recent Lessons (2022). Ever since reading his short story “Mother tongue” (2001) I’ve been keeping track of his metalinguistic comments, as I have with other popular writers, such as John le Carré. Unfortunately, there were none in Saturday, but I did spot two in Lessons, both on the apostrophe:

  • Upstairs at this desk he saw the email. ‘Dropped off at Sams. Back late tonight. x L.’ Lawrence knew that his father rarely read text messages. Roland [the main character] tried not to mind about the absent apostrophe (p. 314)
  • … framed jokey signs … that a local pub must have donated. You don’t have to be mad to work here but it help’s. Roland’s gaze was fixed on the apostrophe, surprised that it moved him. They were all doing their best to get by with what they had (pp. 375-6)

Both of them are social comments: the first is about his son Lawrence (like most of his generation) not caring about punctuation, but it may also be about language standards dropping in the social media. And the second reads like another example of the greengrocer’s apostrophe.

Lessons is a great and very moving book, with some autobiographical elements in it. Having read “Mother tongue” explained quite a bit for me about the main character’s social background.

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Comparative prescriptivism

When I gave a workshop on usage guides and old usage problems for TeamWork earlier this year, Marcel Lemmens, one of the organisers, presented me with a copy of his recently published writing manual called Als je BGRPT wat ik BDL (“If you NDRSTND what I MN”). I have just finished reading all 101 rules in the boek, and thought what a great idea it would be to follow up Robert Ilson’s suggestion for a project of cross-cultural prescriptivism. Because there are quite a few items in Lemmens’s writing guide that are very similar to those for English. As well as ones that are very different.

So is there anyone who is knowledgeable enough in both English and Dutch as well as interested in comparative prescriptivism to take such a project on? I’d be happy to be involved.

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Back online

Harry Ritchie’s website with his two freely available usage guides is once again up and rolling. You’ll find it – and them – here. Do let us know what you think of it.

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“The language is evolving …”

I know that, but I’d still like to know what YOU think about this sentence, which I heard this summer while camping in England: “We are currently having to deal with a large volume of calls and are unable to answer you now”. It may be (un)acceptable in different contexts, so please fill in this mini-survey (one sentence only) and let me know.

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Great news from the publisher

Routledge has just let me know that Describing Prescriptivism: Usage Guides and Usage Problems in British and American English has come out in paperback. Much cheaper than the hardback!

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The Oxford comma in the news

Are you for or against the Oxford comma? No choice when publishing with OUP of course, as even Thérèse Coffey would discover. And I doubt if people would be against adding a comma where a lack of one would lead to funny sentences, as in the examples fom this piece in The Guardian last week. Personally, I would rather not use it when there is no need for it. How about you?

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Verbal hygiene at Mr Kipling’s

I love Mr Kipling’s little Bramley apple pies, advertised as “exceedingly good cakes”. So far so grammatically good, and good they are. But when buying them this summer during our holidays in England, we also spotted Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good “cherry Bakewells”, which I’d never tried before. But I had heard about them when interviewing a British colleague for my book Languages of The Hague (2019). One of the things she missed most about living in The Netherlands, she told me at the time, were Bakewell tarts. Tarts! What happened to the word? Scrapped because of its negative connotations? Verbal hygiene at work at Mr Kipling’s?

Want to read my book for the 30 other interviews with native speakers of multilingual The Hague? You can order it directly from its publisher, De Nieuwe Haagsche. It is of course “exceedingly good” as well.

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Evaluating Writing Wrongs?

This summer, walking into Foyles in London, I came across this usage guide: Writing Wrongs: Common Errors in English, by Robert M. Martin (2018, Peterborough Ontario, Canada: Broadview Press).

New for me, but already four years old, so I was wondering if any readers of this blog have any experience with this usage guide?

Google Books includes the following description of it (emphasis added by me):

“Writing Wrongs is a concise and thoughtful guide to common errors in English. It covers frequently confused and misused words along with problems of grammar, punctuation, and style, and offers a brief and up-to-date guide to major citation styles. Though it provides guidelines and recommendations for usage, Writing Wrongs acknowledges the evolution of language over time and the fact that different contexts have different rules—it is not narrowly prescriptive. A friendly, flexible, and easy-to-read reference, Writing Wrongs will be useful to students and general readers alike.”

How useful did you find it?

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Interactive TeamWork survey

On 28 October 2022, TeamWork will be organising a workshop session, called “The mysteries of brackets and old grammar chestnuts”. For more information as well as to register for this event, see the TeamWork website.

One of the workshops will be on the typical Bridging the Unbridegable topic of usage guides and usage problems, and will focus particularly on the question of whether old chestnuts like the split infinitive or the use of who for whom should still be considered (and proscribed as such) wrong. To be able to acquire some preliminary data for the workshop, readers of this blog are invited to complete a brief survey on attitudes regarding some old chestnuts in this history of usage advice. The survey is anonymous, and you will find it here. And if you’re in The Netherlands at the time of the event, do register for it so that you will be able to learn about the results!

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